June 8, 2007
Outformation is a band on the cusp. They’re about to release their second full-length studio CD, due in the next few months. They’re playing bigger shows, and hitting all the right festivals.
Despite all this, attend an Outformation show in nearly any city today, and you’ll be faced with a glaring fact, in the form of cotton and thread. All of the Widespread Panic lot shirts are a metaphorical shadow that looms over the band – people are streaming in the doors because of the connection the band has to Panic. Now, does it really matter why people show up? As long as they’re in the room, it’s up to Outformation to blow their minds. Who really cares why the show in the first place.
Regardless, in many ways it’s still a shame, because some fans just can’t see the forest for the trees. Yeah, guitarist Sam Holt used to be Panic’s guitar tech. However, Outformation kicks ass, and more people will take notice sooner, rather than later.
Their two-set show in Memphis, billed as "An Evening with Outformation," is an indicator, as the room started dancing during the opening "Valley Blue" and didn’t stop until the last notes of "Sweet Louisiana," some time after 2 a.m.
"Dark Severinsen" was great – a rocker in the truest sense of rock and roll, with solid guitar soloing from Holt and keyboard from CR Gruver. "Carnac" followed, and the frenetic pace of the tune, from the guitar to Jeff "Birddog" Lane’s percussion, is right out of the Widespread Panic playbook. Gruver’s solo here was awesome, as his fingers danced all over the keys.
Outformation finished up the first set strong, but the real juice was squeezed after the set break. After an upbeat "90," Holt dipped into Panic’s songbook with "B of D," starting a massive segue. Holt sounds so much like Michael Houser at times it’s scary. Perhaps it’s the guitar, or the his Soldano and Mesa/Boogie amp setup. More likely, though, something rubbed off on Holt from his years spent being "the guy behind the guy."
Holt is a vastly underrated guitarist. There are plenty of fans that would have liked to see him take over when George McConnell and Panic parted ways, but just as many others that thought he wasn’t quite ready for the job. There certainly would have been growing pains – there’s no doubt. However, he can clearly play.
He showed it during "24 Hours at a Time > ‘Bout My Money." His guitar solo, and the band overall, sounded remarkably like mid ’90s Widespread Panic during their jam in the song – even more so than Panic themselves sound like today. From Birddog’s percussion to some of the phrasing Gruver sticks into his piano work, if one closes their eyes, at times Outformation sounds remarkably like Panic.
Granted, this is going out on a very thin limb – very thin. However, to be even able to venture the nerve to throw that out there speaks volumes of just how far Outformation has come, and the bright future they have.
The crowd completely lost it during "’Bout My Money." There were fists pumping in the air, heads bobbing along, and the tension and release pushed and pulled the room until they shifted into "SG > Drums."
"Drums" eventually gave way to CR Gruver taking the mic to belt out "West LA Fadeaway," which breathed new life into the Dead In the Dark-era classic. As Holt’s guitar faded out, the pace picked back up and the band finished up "’Bout My Money," and after nearly 45 minutes of continued playing, the band and the room finally got to take a collective breath.
The band finished out the second set strong – "Stone in My Shoe" was given a working over and breached the 13-minute mark with plenty of guitar goodness and Grady Upchurch providing some thunderingly awesome bass work.
Outformation came out and played a triple-song encore, starting with "Game On," followed by "Later," and finishing up with a great "Sweet Louisiana," appropos considering lyrical nods to the Mississippi River. The band was on top of their game to the very end, and the entire room fought fatigue, trying to keep up with them.
When all was said and done, Outformation had been on stage at Newby’s for over two and a half hours, and the audience appreciated every minute – and they should, because it was one hell of a rock show. Sooner or later, though, they’re all going to be there because they’re going to see a band who’s already kicking serious ass today, not because it keeps them in touch with the ghost of Widespread Panic past.
Set 1: Valley Blue, Dark Severinsen, Carnac, Winds, Chicken Pickin’, Long Lonely Road, Toy’s Song, Solid Country Gold, Into My Arms
Set 2: 90, B of D > 24 Hours at a Time > ‘Bout My Money > SG > Drums > West L.A. Fadeaway > ‘Bout My Money, Brand New, Stone In My Shoe, Can’t Change the Past
Encore: Game On, Later, Sweet Louisiana
all photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com